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by Morris Jones
Sydney, Australia (SPX) Jun 04, 2012
Are we alone in the universe? It's probably the greatest question posed by space exploration. It fascinates scientists and the general public. It's important and deeply compelling. We want to know, and we have ways of finding out. It doesn't cost much to operate a SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) program. Some space missions cost billions of dollars. Most cost hundreds of millions.
The US-based SETI Institute, by contrast, needs only a couple of million dollars a year to perform its cutting-edge work.
In tough economic times, it's more important than ever to get value for money from investments in scientific research. SETI is probably a model of economy. The investment required is minimal, and the issues confronted are profound.
Although we have yet to find evidence of life beyond Earth, the program has been highly successful. It has carried out its surveys of the galaxy with care and efficiency.
It has helped us to put the existence of an inhabited Earth into a greater perspective, by showing that our immediate neighbourhood in space seems to be devoid of more advanced civilizations. It has educated and inspired millions of people in the fields of space science.
It is therefore shocking to see that SETI is starved for funds. Money is wasted on so many pointless and harmless activities, yet this profound quest is struggling to survive. Without a boost in funding, the venerable SETI Institute may be forced to cease its search for new civilizations in the future.
Because it only requires relatively small amounts of funding, a small contribution to SETI goes a long way. It makes a real difference, and every contributor becomes a stakeholder in this great endeavour.
Spaceflight enthusiasts who are tired of the lack of progress in larger space programs can break their frustrations by embracing SETI. They can do something themselves.
They can advance our knowledge of the universe. They will become stakeholders in the search. And when we make the ultimate discovery, they can proudly state that they were a part of it.
The SETI Institute needs support now, more than ever. It's worth exploring the Web site to see how much is going on, generally out of the mainstream media. It's more than just a worthy cause. It's great fun!
Dr Morris Jones is an Australian space analyst and writer.
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